DETROIT, Mich. — Rev. Phil Reller, coordinator for Phoenix-based Southwest Conference United Church of Christ, arrived here Monday night, hoping to share with other participants his views on immigration debates in Arizona.
Gloria Sandoval of California Central Valley Journey for Justice, along with her colleague, came to continue pushing for minorities’ rights to proper health care and quality education. And Michele Kelley, who volunteers for Families United for Racial and Economic Equality in New York City, wanted to network with other social movement groups.
Reller, Sandoval and Kelley are just three among the thousands of community activists, journalists, artists, the ethnic media, environmentalists, human rights leaders, and other social advocates from across the country and around the world gathered here for the five-day U.S. Social Forum.
“This is a perfect opportunity to educate people on what’s truly happening in our local communities, not just about the struggles of immigrants in Arizona, but also the momentum of hope among community leaders to repeal SB 1070,” said Reller, who has been building support groups here with his son, Adam, for the upcoming vigil that his organization plans to hold in Phoenix.
SB 1070, a state bill that allows local enforcement to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants in Arizona, is set to take effect on July 29. “It’s not too late to tell my story at this forum. The heart of the communities in Arizona is good and strong. In fact, it’s too early to give up; we have a long struggle ahead of us,” Reller said.
For two miles, from Wayne State University to Cobo Center in downtown Detroit, where most programs will take place, thousands of the forum’s participants marched on the street, marking the opening of the social forum on Tuesday afternoon.
“My hope is that this is going to be an enormous chance for Detroit to see people who came from different places and discover something from their experiences,” said Adele Nieves, national communications coordinator for the U.S. Social Forum.
Since the economic recession struck two years ago, Detroit and the state of Michigan have the highest unemployment rates in the nation, and the rate of homelessness has increased by 10 percent this year. More than a million families, according to local officials here, have already moved to other cities and states in search of a better future.
“This is the time and place for people to speak for their own cities and have their own voice,” Nieves added. “Through conversations at the forum, we hope to find means on how to rebuild the city of Detroit.”
She estimated the forum’s number of participants at 20,000, which is a 300 percent increase from the previous national forum held in Atlanta three years ago.
“We can use this collective power to impact and move policy at local, state and federal levels, from immigration to housing to access to health care,” said Don Rojas, executive director of Free Speech TV. “This is the biggest grassroots social movement in the country, and the variety of participating organizations is so broad.”
Sandoval described the worsening economic condition in California’s central valley. People are losing homes, she said, and many do not have proper health care.
“We have many, many things to talk about. I hope we find the answers here,” she said.
But, not everyone is looking for answers.
Kelley, who has been an organizer for 20 years, said that she has been struggling to find alternatives to groups that might sound radical but are in reality funded by foundations, operate as 501(c)(3) non-profits and mimic “a very corporate structure.” She said she wants the “horizontal movement” she saw in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
“I hope I’ll find it here again,” she said.